Female directors had a better chance of having their documentaries screened at film festivals than their narrative features, according to a new study.
Women accounted for 42% of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers on documentaries that were featured in Sundance, SXSW, AFI, New York Film Festival and other annual celebrations of moviemaking. In contrast, they comprised 35% of those working on narrative features at those same festivals. The report, which was undertaken by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, examined 7,452 credits on 582 films that screened at 20 high-profile film festivals in the U.S. The report captured a year in which female filmmakers, like Sian Heder (“CODA”), Amber Sealey (“No Man of God”), Mariem Pérez Riera (“Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It”) and Rebecca Hall (“Passing”), scored some of the biggest deals and best reviews of the film festival season. Those gains took place against the backdrop of a global pandemic that forced most film festivals to unspool virtually.
In nearly every behind-the-scenes role, documentaries employed higher percentages of women than narrative features. Forty-one percent of directors on documentaries that screened at festivals were women versus 37% on narrative features. Women comprised 45% of executive producers on documentaries versus 31% on narrative features, 50% of producers on documentaries versus 40% on narrative features, 40% of editors on documentaries versus 34% on narrative features, and 26% of cinematographers on documentaries versus 19% on narrative features. The sole exception was in terms of writing credits, where women screenwriters on narrative features edged out those working on non-fiction films by 37% to 35%.
“The findings confirm that women continue to enjoy higher rates of employment on documentaries than narrative features,” said professor Martha Lauzen, executive director of center and the report’s author. “Every iteration of this study since 2008 has found that women fare better in the world of documentary films.”
Since the study’s inception, the percentage of female-directed films screened at festivals has increased substantially. In 2008, for instance, festivals highlighted 28 documentaries that were directed by women. Last year, that number increased 46.4% to 41. On the narrative front, women directed 15 features that screened at festivals in 2008. That number more than doubled in the ensuing decade and change to 37 in the most recent period.
Movies with female directors were more likely to employ more women, the report found. The percentages of women working in key behind-the-scenes roles more than doubled on movies led by female filmmakers. Film festivals play a critical part in launching careers, giving artists an opportunity to have their movies seen, sold and reviewed, which helps land future gigs.